rebelling against low expectations

Noah Riner: Faith Under Fire At Dartmouth


Noah Riner, 21 — homeschooled son of a Baptist preacher, and now student body president at Dartmouth College — sparked national controversy with his September 20th convocation speech to incoming freshmen. In what is traditionally an immemorable speech, Riner maintained that character, not just intelligence and talent, must be the goal for true education.

Dartmouth, Riner told his peers, has turned out a lot of very talented, very intelligent individuals. “But if all we get from this place is knowledge, we’ve missed something,” he reasoned — citing examples, both historic and recent, of Dartmouth alums whose credentials were impeccable, but whose character was proven to be greatly corrupt. Turning to raise the issue of New Orleans — the looting, violence, and rape in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina — Riner clarified, “My purpose… isn’t to condemn just [the citizens of New Orleans], rather it’s to condemn all of us.”

“The real problem in this world,” Riner argued, “is not lack of education [but] lack of character.”

“[C]haracter,” he held, “is what you do when no one is looking, but I’m afraid to say all the things I’ve done when no one was looking.” He challenged his fellow students to be honest with themselves and with one another. “We have the same flaws as the individuals who pillaged New Orleans,” he said, affirming the truth of the universal sin nature. “Ours haven’t been given such free range, but they exist and are part of us all the same.”

However, it is still very likely that — had Riner stopped at this point — there would have been little uproar. Vice president of the Student Assembly, Kaelin Goulet, would not have resigned in protest, calling Riner’s speech “reprehensible and an abuse of power.” The story would not have swept across the blogosphere like wildfire, nor been featured in magazines and newspapers across the country.

But Riner did not stop there. Instead, he did the unthinkable. He spoke of Jesus Christ. And he didn’t just use Him as his example, or an example of character — but rather as the “best example” of character. And he didn’t just use Him as an example of character — but rather as the solution to man’s inherent corruption.

“Jesus’ message of redemption is simple,” Riner said. “People are imperfect, and there are consequences for our actions. He gave His life for our sin so that we wouldn’t have to bear the penalty of the law; so we could see love. The problem is me; the solution is God’s love: Jesus on the cross, for us.”

“You want the best undergraduate education in the world, and you’ve come to the right place to get that. But there’s more to college than achievement. With Martin Luther King, we must dream of a nation – and a college – where people are not judged by the superficial, ‘but by the content of their character.'”

[To read the full text of Noah Riner’s convocation speech click here. To see a video of his speech click here.]

WORLD magazine summarizes the fallout of Riner’s speech in this week’s issue:

Editorials, guest columns, and letters to the editor filled the pages of the Dartmouth student newspaper. Senior Brian Martin wrote that he was “appalled and disappointed,” adding that “Jesus would not have wanted to make new students feel unwelcome.”

An editorial cartoon depicted Mr. Riner as an overzealous fanatic out to vanquish infidels, with Jesus as a foul-mouthed, pot-smoking hippie advising him to chill out.

Others wrote passionately in Mr. Riner’s defense: “He stood up against political correctness, and it is about time,” opined senior Stacey Kourlis: “No one has been hurt or denied their rights. If anything, Riner has just created the chance for everyone to argue about a controversial topic.” Freshman Brian Chao suggested that “had Riner instead espoused the virtues of Muhammad, Buddha, or any other religious figure, he would be applauded.”

That people disagreed with his ideas did not surprise the senior, a history and government double major, but the frequent unwillingness to engage those ideas surprised and disappointed him. “I wish people would wrestle more with the issues raised in my speech rather than with the propriety of the speech,” he told WORLD, insisting he had not intended to generate a discussion of free-speech rights. “As a Christian, I can’t talk about character without talking about Jesus.”

As would be expected, Riner’s inbox was flooded with emails in the days following his speech. In a gesture that impressed me even more than his speech itself, Riner not only read each message carefully — many of which viciously attacked him and his beliefs — but also took the time to personally meet with each detractor.

Mr. Riner, The Rebelution applauds you. Your message of character — character that cannot be divorced from Christ — is one that our culture desperately needs. May God bless and strengthen you as you stand for truth — truth towards which the world is hostile.

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About the author

Alex and Brett Harris

are the co-founders of and co-authors of Do Hard Things and Start Here. They have a passion for God and for their generation. Their personal interests include politics, filmmaking, music, and basketball. They are both graduates of Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia.


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  • Wow! that is amazing. I would have to second your aplaud to Mr. Riner! That must have taken an icredible amount of courage to stand infront of his student body and share the good news of Jesus Christ. I hope that more and more people can see the importance of Character and apply it when people are looking and when they aren’t.
    God bless!

  • What a testimony people like Mr. Riner are! How totally cool!! It almost makes me wonder: whenever we hear a story like that, we are filled with admiration, and how many of us would actually stand up like that? I hope all of us would, but it still makes me wonder if I would take the chance of being ridiculed.


  • I enjoyed reading about Mr. Riner, what a love he must have for the Lord to be willing to face the ridicule of his peers and teachers.

    I love the fact that he knew you can not really talk about character or anything good without talking about Jesus Christ.

    Thank you for writing about Mr. Riner, it’s encouraging to know there are people our age who really love the Lord and are willing to stand up for Him.

  • Wow! That is such an awesome story! Mr. Riner is a great example for all of us, both in his speaking of Christ and in his respectful answers to his opponents. I was really encouraged by this post 🙂

  • WOW!!! I did not hear about this!

    I work for Representative Tom Riner, Noah’s Dad, as a Legislative Aide. Noah and I have worked together on several occasions. You could guess my surprise when I saw his photo up there!

    Way to go, Noah!

    In Him,


  • David: That’s awesome! BTW, I just was talking to a friend today at church who says he knows you (knows of you). Nathan Straub, he’s also participating in the paralegal study course you’re involved in. Does that name strike a bell?

  • Yes, it does; all the people participating in the course are members of a yahoo group, so we all tend to know each other . . . I can’t remember which email that Nathan sent out but I definitely remember the name.

  • Sweet- its about time someone takes a stand in such a way as that. Takes a lot to do that. Thats cool. Straight up cool. I think I’d like to meet him- way to go PK!
    (pastors kid!)
    Your Bro,
    Another Man

  • Thanks for the article! Does anyone know how to contact Noah Riner? I’d appreciate if someone could pass the info along to me at [email protected].

    Just ran into this site…quite impressive at first look. Keep it up!

    Jennifer Weston (ex-homeschool student-graduated) 🙂

  • I don’t see why people will oppose to the speech. It certainly does not establish any religion and it only demostrates freedom of speech.

    That is a courageous act. May God continues to bless and use you, Noah.

    Emile Hong (father of a homeschool daughter)

  • It seems as though the people who share Riner’s views have kept the “controversy” afloat. In actuality, the views themselves were not considered unusually controversial at Dartmouth, a genuine community dedicated to free speech; the forum he chose to present his views was considered a lousy choice. He delivered his speech at the school’s convocation. Below are a couple of perspectives by students who, unlike Dr. Mohler, were actually there.

    Put the speech in context.

    [Editor’s Note: Dear Dartmouth student, we appreciate your dedication to “set the record straight,” however, many of us (including Dr. Mohler, Alex, and me) have not only read the transcript of Noah’s speech and much of what both sides had to say about it, but we have also watched a video of the convocation. In my opinion that exposure is sufficient for us to render an informed judgment. The links you supplied, which I have removed, were almost entirely negative opinions based on the why’s, where’s, and when’s of Noah’s speech. They did not serve to objectively “set the record straight” but rather presented an opposing viewpoint that we do not share, and honestly, were thoroughly aware of. Thank for your time.]

  • What a speech delivered by Noah Riner! If Noah ever runs for President, he can count on my vote. Noah has set the perfect example for Christians to speak their convictions about Jesus Christ Keep up the good work, Noah.

  • This is very cool, indeed. I had the pleasure of hearing Noah Riner speak at a youth event I went to. The whole event was about “taking a stand,” and while some may disagree, Noah was a very convincing and truthful speaker. One of my friends, as a leader in our school, was able to speak with Noah privately about being a leader, and came back ready for anything. Since then, he has done a fantastic job changing some of the mindframes in our school. God is obviously blessing people through Noah Riner’s story. And I agree…if Noah runs for president, he’s got my vote. 🙂

  • I only just came across this event on another website, and then found this article. What Noah did is inspiring. I sometimes think what would happen to me if I were in the difficult situation when the truth of God is dishonored and I must stand up for Him (ex. your school is advocating the Day of Silence for LBGT). I would probably get brutally criticized, myself. All around me are classmates who don’t believe the truth at all. That is something every Christian ought to be willing to do–to have the courage to stand up and preach the gospel to an unbelieving world. That is what God’s will is. We can’t contexualize with our own culture and let the fear of persecution hinder us. We must trust in God’s sovereignty, and with a righteous testimony, speak in boldness, truth, and love.

  • Interesting. I am a fairly active Dartmouth alum and heard nothing about this till today when I was checking out this website. I totally agree with Noah’s viewpoint on character and am currently memorizing, along with my children, the applicable sections of Psalm 119. Knowing Dartmouth, I can’t imagine doing this. The disdain and vitriol with which people of Biblical Christian faith are treated at Dartmouth and in its alumni community are stunning. The speech-inhibiting “politically correct” environment has been part of that culture for at least 30 years. I can’t imagine trying to survive there socially as a committed Christian. I would not want to send one of my children there for that reason. I have watched many of our teens lose their faith at liberal colleges in the Bible belt south over the last 15 years. I think it would be much harder to maintain in New England. However, I fear for our country if Christians do not take on the challenges of Ivy League education, because in this, as in most, presidential administrations, decisions are being made by the elite Ivy Leaguers. Noah, I hope you will continue to stand firm in the face of opposition. God bless.

    • Free speech is fine, but be ready to not be offended when intelligent people call out magic and superstition for the harness that it is. It holds us back, causes us to hate people we normally wouldn’t. It is false, and should be regarded as such.

  • WOW!! That is a huge inspiration to me. I’m am very glad to hear this story, and have to ask myself if I would do the same, which is a shame.Thanks for the post

  • It’s a beauitful testamony, about how we christain teens need to take every opportuinty that the SPIRIT gives us. Even if it means humiation and unaccpectence we need to be honest, to stand up for what we beleive, then when we stand before the holy throne, JESUS can say that HE knew us. And while we are on earth we can honestly say that we know HIM. i can think of no greater joy then doing what we are called, and made to do. i know because i remember how many times, i fearful of humilation and unaccpectence, denyed my self that joy. i need to remember that how JESUS thinks of me, is the only thing that matters. i salute you Noah Riner, for doing what i have so often failed awfully to do, i will try again with new engery, knowing it is very possible for people like us, try again, thank you, i know you will be blessed by the SAVIOR for standing for JESUS.

  • Noah Riner’s story is such an inspiration. I’m a homeschooled 16 year old and have just completed my first dual enrollment semester at a local community college. The lack of God at school is unbelievable (and NC is supposed to be in the ‘Bible belt’!) I’m so used to being around Church family and Christian homeschool friends, it’s been shocking. One of my professors acted like Christianity was a man-made religion while in another class I found out I was one of only a few who was against homosexuality! I am glad to see someone else standing up for their beliefs at a secular college. It encourages me to be a godly example to my fellow students and to speak up when God wants me to!

    • It is a made up religion. As ALL of them are. If you’re wondering how someone can say that, take how you feel about ALL The other god(s) that you know don’t exist and apply it to the one you think exsists. You’ll then be able to break your chains and join humanity. Welcome.

rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →